Two Somali Muslim women said they were verbally harassed because of their religion and nationality Saturday by two employees and a customer at a Smashburger restaurant in Edina.
Kadra Abdi, 31, and Sadia Warfa, 33, shared the incident through posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Smashburger on Monday said that the confrontation was between customers and did not involve employees.
Abdi called the incident a hate crime and said she was meeting with attorneys with the intent of filing a formal complaint.
“It was all very surreal,” said Abdi, a Blaine resident who works at Legal Rights Center, a nonprofit Minneapolis law firm. “I felt verbally attacked, like I was the victim of Islamophobia.”
Abdi said that she was shopping with Warfa and Warfa’s 3-year-old daughter at Southdale Center on Saturday night and entered the Smashburger inside the mall about 7:30 p.m.
They ordered milkshakes, paid for them and waited. When they asked about the status of their order, Abdi said, they were met with hostility by a female employee and the restaurant’s assistant manager.
According to Abdi, the assistant manager told them, “Welcome to America,” and that “You think you’re better than other people” because they were Somali. The female employee called them “idiots” for continuing to wait.
A male customer then entered the restaurant, Abdi said, and told them to “go back to your country” if they were unhappy with the service. Warfa shot a short video on her phone of the customer haranguing the women over their hijabs.
Maria Lange, 15, in Smashburger with her mother, said employees did not try to help the women when the customer confronted them. “Not only did they not do anything, but they kind of encouraged the man to keep going,” she said.
The women got their milkshakes and, along with the male customer, were told to leave the restaurant. “I was flabbergasted. I was in complete shock,” Abdi said.
In a statement posted Monday on Facebook, Smashburger said that no employees were involved in the confrontation and that workers followed protocol by asking the customers to leave the restaurant.
“Smashburger has no tolerance for discrimination by employees or guests against anyone,” the company said. “We will never allow discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic.”
Abdi called the response a “very blanket and generic statement” that falsely claims employees were not involved. “Their statement is a complete lie,” she said.
Abdi said she reported the incident to the local office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). She and Warfa are demanding the restaurant discipline the employees and issue a formal apology to them and the Muslim community.
Abdi said that she and her friend are American citizens and that she was motivated to share their account by President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.
“I wanted to say something … so people know that this type of treatment isn’t OK.”